HUNTINGTON — Success can often be measured in victories.
When looking at the University of Akron basketball team, however, the true testament of its play may be seen in the results of the Zips’ two losses.
Despite going up against bigger, more athletic teams, Akron scrapped until the final stretch in road losses to West Virginia and Louisville.
As Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni got his team prepared for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. matchup with the Zips at the Cam Henderson Center, he noted that this is another on a tough slate of non-conference opponents for the Herd.
“We’re playing the conference championship level [teams] right now,” D’Antoni said. “It’s probably bad for my resume as a coach, but good for the team when we get into February when it really counts. Akron is another team that is going to play at the top of their division.”
Akron (5-2) has an unblemished record at home this season, winning all of its home games by double-figures.
The Zips’ two losses have come on the road, but Akron was competitive with both Louisville and West Virginia, never allowing either power conference program to pull away until the end.
West Virginia topped Akron 94-84, but the Zips overcame an early deficit to make it a two-possession game in the final minute.
Louisville was much of the same as Akron fell behind by as many as 22 points in the second half, only to close within four in the final minute of an 82-76 loss.
The two results show the mental toughness of the team, along with a talent level that D’Antoni said is solid with three primary scorers and shooters who can fill it up when allowed time to do so.
While Xeyrius Williams leads the team with 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, D’Antoni pointed to Tyler Cheese as the Zips’ catalyst.
Cheese comes off the bench for Akron but is second on the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game, using a 6-5 frame to pose problems on the wing.
Point guard Loren Cristian Jackson is just behind at 14 points and four assists per game, and D’Antoni said the quick 5-foot-8 guard keys a strong transition attack that can quickly take advantage of miscues.
“Transition, we have to find No. 1 [Jackson],” D’Antoni said. “He can pull it up on a dime.”
Much like Akron’s efforts against top-tier programs, D’Antoni remains encouraged by his team’s play despite a 2-4 start.
D’Antoni said the Herd took another step forward in Friday’s 73-67 loss to No. 24 Florida, during which Marshall led for much of the first half before an early second-half lull allowed the Gators to go on a big run that forced the Herd to play from behind.
Marshall trailed by as many as 13 points but rallied within two points late in the contest.
“A typical young team, that’s what they do,” D’Antoni said of his Herd. “They play 30 minutes really good and 10 minutes, they lose the ballgame. We’ve got to shrink that. We’ve got to take that down to a manageable minute or two — somewhere in the first part of the game, not at the end. Then, you’ve got a good chance.”
D’Antoni said that games like the one against Florida and the close matchup with Notre Dame show that his team is on the cusp of hitting its stride, if it can find its shooting mark.
“We’re not shooting the ball well enough team-wise, but I’m encouraged to know that our floor game and, for big stretches of the game, we can play with the best teams in this country,” D’Antoni said.
While Marshall has yet to find its rhythm from the offensive end, D’Antoni has been pleased with the progress of his team defensively and in rebounding.
One player who stuck out against Florida was Iran Bennett, who continues to improve each game.
Bennett finished the game with 16 points and six rebounds despite a tough matchup with Florida’s talented frontcourt.
Those numbers may have been higher, but Bennett was forced to the bench with foul issues after picking up two in the first minute of the second half.
While Bennett’s success brings another dimension down low, D’Antoni added that the team will go as far as its shooting takes it.
Marshall is shooting 44 percent from the floor but only 25 percent from 3-point range.
“I’m hoping — got my fingers crossed — that the shooting will pick up, and when that happens, I think you’ll see a really good ball club,” D’Antoni said.